EAT-Lancet Commission: a healthy diet for a sustainable food system

EAT-Lancet Commission: a healthy diet for a sustainable food system

January 17, 2019

EAT-Lancet Commission: a healthy diet for a sustainable food system

The work of world-leading health and sustainability experts has released a report that can be used as a reference to feed the world’s population with a healthy diet while protecting the planet’s resources. 

Can we feed a future population of 10 billion people with a healthy diet within planetary boundaries? To answer to this question, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health brought together world-leading scientists from across the globe to reach a scientific consensus that defines a healthy and sustainable diet, and which actions can support and speed up food system transformation.

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, is co-chaireded by Walter Willett from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston (United States) and Johan Rockström, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Sweden) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. 

The report of the EAT-Lancet Commission will be officially launched in the afternoon on 17 January 2019 in Oslo (Norway), and the event will be live-streamed on as well as, almost simultaneously, published by the prestigious Lancet magazine. This is the beginning of a series of global launch events planned for the beginning part of the 2019 across five continents and over 30 countries, as explained in detail on the dedicated website

Why is the EAT-Lancet Commission needed?

Thanks to the work of 37 world-leading health and sustainability experts from 16 different countries and their effort to assess the best scientific evidence available, the EAT-Lancet Commission represents a reliable source of information for the sector. Was it really necessary to create another group of experts and another report? Based on the context in which the Commission operates and the peculiarities of its final report, the answer is undoubtedly “Yes”. “Today, there is no scientific consensus to define what is a healthy diet, we don’t have a comprehensive review of how current food systems should change to be truly sustainable” experts explain, and also mention the lack of guidelines telling all actors how to provide with a healthy diet from a sustainable food system. This is why the Commission’s final report is crucial. For the first time ever, it proposes scientific targets for what constitutes a healthy diet and a sustainable food system. “With its careful analysis of the data available to date, the EAT-Lancet report bridges the gap between health, environmental sustainability, science and concrete action and provides scientific targets to guide actors in the development of effective strategies in line with achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement targets” experts say. 

What are the major outcomes and figures? 

Food is the most important lever we have to improve human health and the planet. As a matter of fact, 6 out of 11 leading risk factors for disease worldwide are connected to unhealthy diets, while food systems are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and the main users of fresh water and land. Ensuring the world’s population and the planet’s good health requires a concrete transformation, aiming at creating a production system and a plant-based diet. Nothing new so far. What is new, however, is that the experts of the EAT-Lancet Commission present current models of healthy diets and set limits on the amount of land, water and chemicals to be used in the food production systems. It created an ad hoc “recipe” that represents a universal reference healthy diet, good for human health and for the environment. All details are available in the final report, which contains, for example, the daily recommended indications of micro nutrients (232 g of whole grain cereals, between 200 g and 600 g of vegetables) and their energy values (calories). Forecasts reveal that if everyone on the planet followed these guidelines, approximately 11 million adult deaths could be prevented every year. Finally, in an additional section of the report, the analysis of food systems allowed the Commission to calculate the boundaries within which these systems should operate to avoid irreparable damage to the planet. Six variables need to be kept under control: greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen and phosphorus, water, land use and biodiversity

Levels of risk

The concept of boundary is essential in the EAT-Lancet Commission report: the analysis of scientific data leads to the identification of boundaries, limits that need to be respected when making decisions regarding healthy diets and food system sustainability. “They serve as guidelines to understand better the acceptable levels of risk” says the report, which includes examples of how, often, these limits are exceeded, not necessarily willingly but as a matter of necessity or lack of alternatives. For example, compared to the healthy diet identified in the report, what stands out is the fact that on a global level the two groups of food that exceed significantly the maximum limit (set at 100%) are read meat (288%) and starchy tubers such as potatoes and manioc (293%). However, at a closer look, the report shows huge consumption differences between countries: the United States exceed animal protein limits (red meat 638%, eggs 268%, chicken 234%, milk and dairy products 145%), while regions such as sub-Saharan Africa exceed starchy tuber limits (729%). Similar examples can also be made looking at the sustainability limits of the food systems calculated in the report.  

The targets set by the report require effective strategies and the EAT-Lancet Commission identifies five, including national and international efforts to spread healthy diet habits and the reorganization of agriculture's priorities, which should shift from mass production of food to production of healthy food, both for the people and for the planet.

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